The seismic shifts in the uptake of digital technology due to COVID-19 have increased the appetite for innovation in the ways people go about their day-to-day lives. In healthcare, it means new-found ease and convenience for patient and provider, all the while mainstreaming safety measures.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, digital health tools improve the ability to accurately diagnose and treat disease and enhance the delivery of healthcare to the individual. During the pandemic, access to care has been and still is crucial, and digital technology has proved its value in isolation and quarantine management and in remote patient care.
For sure, telehealth, while it's been a lifeline for many healthcare providers and their patients during the pandemic, has faced security challenges. According to HealthTech Magazine, vulnerabilities may range from poorly secured endpoints to uninstalled patches, and such “inadequate security can reduce trust in telehealth technology.”
“We’re not too far from a future where people decide which health systems to go to depending on who protects their information the best,” stated Kelvin Coleman, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance (quoted by HealthTech). Coleman recommends that health systems invest in three key areas: solutions, processes, and people.
Supporting patients' needs includes protecting and ensuring the privacy of their data. While this can be a job for providers, they can be helped by innovative solutions that meet security requirements and also are user-friendly, such as LifeWIRE, a secure patient-engagement platform that is, by design, HIPAA-compliant and HITRUST-certified.
Think of how solid a three-legged stool is: no wobbling, no worries. With respect to healthcare, the three "legs" are the patient, the provider, and the platform. The patient needs care and vigilance from the provider, and the patient's valuable and very personal data needs to be protected. The provider needs the ability to focus on the patient. The communication platform manages and secures the patient's data and adheres to strict guidelines and dictums, such as HIPAA and HITRUST, ensuring privacy.
“Providers face stiff penalties for data breaches and cannot afford to have the safety of their operations compromised. Equally important, patients need confidence that their privacy and confidentiality are secure,” wrote Harry Greenspun, MD, Chief Medical Officer and a partner at Guidehouse, according to MedCity News.
To build a security culture in healthcare, the patient, the provider, and the platform should be in one secure loop. Here’s why:
At the heart of healthcare is the patient. And at the core of each patient's care is their healthcare information, unique and personal to them. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “any disruption, corruption, or leak of data may significantly alter the course of patient care for affected patients — with the potential for adverse consequences... In order to protect the patient, we must protect the patient’s data as well."
But protecting patient information is not just the job of the IT department of healthcare organizations; it is a shared responsibility.
“Patients need to understand how to securely communicate with their healthcare providers. Additionally, if patients engage virtually with their healthcare providers, whether through a telehealth platform, e-visits, secure messaging, or otherwise, patients need to understand the privacy and security policies and also how to keep their information private and secure.”
- Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society
The device that is in the hands of the patient is within their control. Technology safeguards can only go so far; but where technology can’t reach, awareness and education will make a difference. The weakest link in the security loop will be the patient who isn’t empowered to do their part to help reduce the risks. Only when the patient understands the risks — what to do and what not to do — as well as the vulnerabilities of certain practices can they make decisions on how they want to communicate. Through awareness and education, the patient can truly be a healthcare security partner.
Clinicians, healthcare organizations, hospitals, and other entities involved in the delivery of patient care are the gatekeepers of patient information. According to a journal article published in Nursing2021, providers can't maintain patient privacy without information security. “Patient information must be protected at all stages of the information lifecycle: when the information is created, received, transmitted, maintained, and destroyed.”
Healthcare providers who electronically transmit any health information in connection with transactions for which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has adopted standards are among those covered by HIPAA, a federal requirement in the U.S.
According to MedCity News, almost 90% of the data breaches involving healthcare providers are caused by human error. “A constant sense of urgency and the need to deal with multiple patients at the same time increase the risk of basic security measures.”
Yes, the healthcare provider's job is to eradicate viruses in patients and to treat the illness those viruses cause — but not computer viruses. Technical sophistication is not expected of providers. But as these issues become more pervasive, there's a need to be educated to a realistic level of understanding and practice of mitigation and information security procedures, for example, staying abreast of major threats and taking simple steps to avoid them.
According to HealthIT Security, it's from awareness of the risks to the appropriate policies and processes that providers can understand what the escalation path is. Coleman in HealthTech Magazine said these simple training processes might include whom to report a malicious link to, how to check security settings, and what to use to run a virus scan.
“Security awareness training equips healthcare employees with the requisite knowledge necessary for making smart decisions and using appropriate caution when handling patient data,” according to Digital Guardian.
The security measures and practices of patients and providers fall flat if the communication platform does not not protect their communication and their data. In the security loop, it’s the platform that ties the patient and providers together and ensures solid protection of data.
The platform is the technology that connects the patient and the provider. It's the system that enables engagement between them. And their individual and collective security cover begins with the platform’s compliance with data protection regulatory requirements.
All the integrity of the processes used to collect information will be compromised on a platform that doesn’t conform to existing standards and doesn't have a prescriptive framework that collects, accesses, stores, or exchanges sensitive and/or regulated data. And all communication and patient engagement protocols fall through the cracks of a nonencrypted exchange network. In the communication and exchange of protected health information, encrypting data at minimum is key to data protection. It is the most basic cybersecurity measure.
LifeWIRE Corp has invented a technology called WhisperText® in which, without the need for any app or software and using what seems like an email or an SMS session, a patient is assured that end-to-end encryption shields their messages and attachments from anyone except the intended recipients. And any record disappears from the patient's device as soon as the session is complete — in fact, it is never on the device.
And the best practice for healthcare security is using a platform that is, by itself, equipped for continued compliance with regulations, to ensure low risk of suffering costly data breaches. That’s how HIPAA compliance and HITRUST CSF certification equip a platform.
HIPAA has strict data-protection requirements that come with hefty penalties and fines if they’re not met. And HITRUST CSF has a prescriptive framework for managing the security requirements inherent in HIPAA, according to HIT Consultant. “HITRUST offers providers a trusted benchmark from which they can measure and manage their own compliance while offering proven protection to their patients and partners.”
When the patients, the providers, and the platform are in one privacy and security loop, patients feel safer and are more engaged, providers can focus on caring for each patient, and the platform's HIPAA-compliant and HITRUST-certified technology clinches the security loop's no-worries stability. #BeLifeWIREd